Feeling wronged? Combating negativity bias

I used to work with someone with whom I had a personal issue, and the personal issue I had unfortunately skewed the way I viewed this individual and their behavior in our work environment. Of course I can see this now in hindsight, because this was years ago, but what I also didn’t know back then is that there are strategies for neutralizing our personal biases toward others.

Since then, I have also learned that it is easy to slip into a negative attitude when we feel wronged. Whether it’s because your reputation is at stake or because you just feel ignored, sometimes we fall into a place where we can only seem to think about the negative aspects of a situation.

Could you or someone you know use a simple model for

neutralizing personal bias?

Why risk a toxic workplace culture, when it can be prevented?

The 2018 Oxford Word of the Year is toxic – a word we usually hear associated with substances like toxic chemicals or toxic waste. We usually use the word toxic to warm ourselves and others that a certain substance is poisonous or dangerous.

In 2018, the use of the word toxic grew to be widely associated with certain situations as well, for example toxic masculinity or toxic work environments.

We take the word seriously when it comes to our health (avoiding toxic chemicals), but what about our mental health or our occupational health? Toxic situations at work, such as gossip or rumors, bullying, or harassment, can cause employees to experience levels of stress and anxiety that significantly impact their well-being, as well as the well-being of the business.

Are you taking steps to prevent a toxic work environment?

The Power of Asserting Boundaries

In her recent book, Empowered Boundaries, author Cristien Storm discusses the idea of communicating boundaries as a way of protecting an environment or space from stepping into legally actionable situations, like discrimination and harassment.

According to Storm, boundaries are communicated with either action or inaction, and can be communicated re-actively or proactively, to protect a space. I’ll let her words provide an example:

“When we do not respond to a sexist comment, for example, the space becomes one in which sexism can expand, which in turn creates conditions where escalating sexist behaviors are more possible. However, if we can assert a clear boundary in the face of a sexist comment, we demark that space as one where sexism is not tolerated. Boundaries then, are not just individual and interpersonal but social as well.”


How do you manage the boundaries in your work context?

For more information on how to keep clear, consistent boundaries, ask about our Professional Boundaries course.

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How to avoid being blindsided

As a sensitivity training workshop facilitator, something I hear a lot is “I was blindsided by a colleague” or “Why didn’t they just come to me if they had an issue with me?” In this position as facilitator, I have learned a lot about the frustrations people have when their colleagues raise issues to a manager or HR rather than coming to them directly; but there are a number of reasonable reasons why this happens.

If someone has raised an issue about your behavior, ask yourself the following questions:

Does this employee report to me?

If so, this person may want to stay in good standing with you, even though they find your behavior unwelcome.

Is this employee new to the group?

If so, consider their perspective. They may not want to be perceived as coming in and shaking things up. But it doesn’t mean they should suffer in silence in an environment that they find hostile.

Has this person mentioned the issue to me before? Did I do something about it?

It is possible that a person tried to raise an issue with you before, and they feel it didn’t work for whatever reason.

Do you consider your relationship with this person to be friendly? Too friendly? Is it so friendly that you sometimes enter into inappropriate conversations in the work context (comments or jokes of a sexual nature, or that touch on legally protected characteristics)?

If so, then going to a manager or HR is the correct step to take, because this is more than just an unwelcome comment or joke. This behavior crosses a legal boundary and can be considered harassment.

The good news is there are preventative steps you can take to avoid complaints about your behavior.

Stay away from topics that can be controversial: sexuality, gender identity, politics, religion, generational differences (millennials vs baby boomers), political correctness, etc. When such topics do come up, tune into the reactions and facial expressions of those present. Is anyone uncomfortable?

If you like to make jokes in the office, consider the content of the jokes. Do they touch on a protected class (race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, etc) or are they of a sexual nature? If so, then going to a manager or HR is the correct step to take, because this is more than just an unwelcome comment or joke. This crosses a legal boundary and can be considered harassment.

You can learn more steps and strategies for prevention from our Professional Boundaries course.

Register today!

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Working with opposing positions? How to keep it productive using brain research

Debating opposing positions is not just for professionals anymore. In fact political debates have become regular household events as of recent. In fact you may have even seen tips over the holidays for talking to relatives over the dinner table. As a society, we’re in need of a way to communicate our opposing ideas with one another without hitting a wall – both figuratively and literally.

Lauren Migliore, author at Brain World Magazine, provides a solution to this issue that uses an instinctive, automatic human function to bring people together – our emotions.

Let me backup a moment and explain why this is so difficult to do in the first place. Migliore writes that the mind is not easily swayed, due to our historic need to remember and base quick judgments off of experiences. In other words, we are hard-wired as humans to pre-judge situations for survival. Further, only in the past few decades have we gained access to the current extent of information that is out there about the world.  Our brains have simply not evolved as quickly as the extent of information sources has, leaving us to pick and choose our sources for information. And unfortunately our tendency to consume information that confirms our current beliefs (i.e. confirmation bias) strengthens not only our resistance to change, but our likelihood of becoming defensive when challenged.

This, Migliore explains, is the power influence can have on the brain. This explains why conspiracy theories such as the flat earth theory gain 200 followers per year. No matter how much scientific evidence is documented and shared, as long as strong beliefs coupled with selective information are what are populating a person’s mind, facts can fall flat, Migliore mentioned with pun intended. This facts can fall flat theory was tested with participants in a study about politically charged issues, and Yale professor and researcher Dan Kahan found that individuals, when presented with a topic that elicits strong polarized opinions, were less able to provide objective, quantitative analyses.

So what was Migliore’s solution to our opposing positions at the dinner table issue? What can we do about our stubborn sets of beliefs and expectations? We can tap into the useful pieces of this emotional connection phenomenon and find shared emotions, shared motivations as the author calls it. If you saw the movie Crash, you may remember the scene toward the end where the police officer is saving the woman he once sexually assaulted from a burning car. She is terrified to be touched by him, but he is the only police officer who is there and able to save her. Spoiler alert – he ends up talking her into letting him save her, and the intense shared experience teaches him to empathize with her fear. He could see how afraid she was of him, even as he stood there as her only option for survival. It’s a heart wrenching scene, but you can see the intense impact of their shared motivation.

The moral of the story here is: connect with people via emotions, not via logic. One way to connect with people’s emotions is to tell stories. We are also wired as humans to listen to and learn from stories of the human experience (Drew Turney, also author for Brain World Magazine). You only have to consider the tales told in caves by campfires and the time and money spent on television, movies, and novels to realize the human obsession with stories.


What motivations do you share with those who oppose your personal opinions?

How can you be the person who gets the conversation going in a respectful, yet still compelling way?

What emotion can you communicate through a story to help your cause?